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Creativity Life & Philosophy

Where comparison fails

We discover our uniqueness through failed conformity. We’re not here to follow and jump through hoops. We endeavor to bend standard practices in strange and wonderful directions.

Thinking different is the ultimate motivator. It carves us into individuals. 

We are who we are — purple cows instead of mindless little robots — and do not accept anything that does not feel authentic. 

“Originality consists of trying to be like everybody else and failing.”

Raymond Radiguet (view books)

When we wield the paintbrush, our imaginative grip never dies. We can invent systems that free us from the tyranny of sameness.

Yet, no matter how individually wrought, we sell our stems to the world for others to imitate and recast as we did to works before us. 

The hope is that our craft encourages others to chase their own fancy version of creativity. The lemmings, forever unoriginal, suffer for nothing.

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Creativity Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Throwing a rock into a hard place

Stuck between the intention and the act, we often fail to carry out what we’re meant to do. 

Motivation is fickle. Distractions are plentiful. Doing is not a matter of talent but discipline. Every repetition is a bicep curl for the brain. 

Wrote William James in The Principles of Psychology: “This very day I have been repeating over and over to myself a verbal jingle whose mawkish silliness was the secret of its haunting power. I loathed yet could not banish it. What holds attention determines action.”

What holds attention predetermines action and protects us against the pitfalls of the next shiny object or stirred emotion. 

Focus is our only guard, without all the narrowness of attention. We need to keep our eyes on the donut over the donut hole. 

So we keep going, showing up despite there being no guarantee of happiness at the end of the tunnel. 

Greater use of the palette insulates the individual from the dizziness of anxiety and the needless aim for the pedestal of fame.  

A creative flow hardens the brain’s sticktoitiveness and summons a type of artistic unity. 

We throw the rock into the hard place. The daily practice is our only durable storage. 

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Arts Creativity Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Crafting confidence

Confidence is fickle. Better to start before you’re ready than wait until you have full faith in yourself. 

The key to crafting confidence starts in the imagination. If you can armor yourself with enough courage — even if it means acting slightly overconfident — you’ll have revved the engine for risk-taking. 

Synchronicities also tend to happen when you’re feeling more upbeat than depressed. Anxiety and darkness, while integral to artful thinking, impair memory and squanders productivity. The maker wants to establish a long-term rhythm of creating rather than weaning off the fickle energy of short-term dopamine.    

Even the wisest men need psychological tactics to regulate the monkey mind. Expectations drive achievement. Of course, one should expect sensible outcomes — no one becomes the best or gets rich by merely thinking it. 

Patient with results, impatient with action

Pace, purpose, and practice are everything. Only a few are geniuses; most are late-blooming opsimaths. Like the Japanese artist Hokusai once said, Until the age of 70, nothing I drew was worthy of notice. At 110, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive.”

Do anything enough — even if it takes decades — and you’ll begin to find your own style and workflow. Hard work usually compounds into something greater than expected and ultimately supports the joy of living.

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Creativity Life & Philosophy

Flow of attention

The creator goes from broad attention to a narrower focus. First, she aggregates, connects the dots, and then produces. 

She rides into the future, churning from a generalist to a specialist, wearing a badge of curiosity while facing past notes. 

She’s not obsessed with what’s novel, nor concerned with making any grand discoveries. She’s more intrigued by spotting information patterns and documenting them in her journal, the camera, etc. — wherever she can jot thoughts down so she can move on. Paying attention is the only way to create answers. 

She’s a collector, researcher, and storyteller at heart. The messy output called writing is what results on the canvass. 

Creativity offers a rare opportunity to climb out of the day-to-day doldrums. Making is a lifeline, the telescope where her attention flows. In other words, all the thinking about the beauty of life just seems to happen. 

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Creativity Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

Never mind the mood

The work doesn’t begin or end at the mercy of mood. Feeling lazy or prepared is neutral — both are non-starters. The mood’s texture remains unchanged. 

Having a daily discipline is the best way to keep the shipping alive. Habits are stronger than moods. 

If your emotions or conditions get in the way because you’re either unmotivated, too sick or cold, exhausted, or missing the perfect seat, you’re screwed. 

Show up and ride the wave of frequency

Sitting in the chair and beginning promptly by 10 AM is non-negotiable. By sticking to a schedule, you alleviate the pain of starting while forcing yourself to dance with all the anxieties that arise. 

If you get frustrated or stuck, try running out the clock. So be it — you showed up but didn’t produce. 

Dissatisfaction is part of the creative process. Afterward, rest or take your thoughts for a walk to digest the reality of incompleteness. A blank canvass with even the most disappointing attempts is a refreshing experience. There is always tomorrow!

When your perspiration and dedication are the muses, the creativity always comes back because the motivation is the same. The sink keeps dripping. 

Even while going about your day, discipline pays off. Deep work compounds, as the brain uses rest periods to reconvene, reconnect, and make sense of all the input. 

Creativity is complicated, but moods are untrustworthy. Once you’re committed to the process while following your curiosities, there’s no wasted time. 

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Arts Creativity Productivity & Work

Beware the mind virus

Creativity dwindles with age. First, school sucks it out of you, and then corporate work puts the nail in the coffin. 

Patterns of normality and absolutes are leaches. Like a mind virus, they try to kill off the imagination and train your organic reflexes into compliant sheep. 

If you’re lucky, you’ll have no choice but to follow the siren song of vocation. Suppose that means becoming an artist; if it’s a bank teller, ditto. Follow up your calling way with the utmost passion. To echo Mark Twain, “The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation.”

Never let your ambition slip out of sight. The happiest people chase their human truths to exploit time. 

As the musician Brian Eno reminds us, “Try not to get a job. Try to leave yourself in a position where you do the things you want to do with your time and where you take maximum advantage of wherever your possibilities are.”

Following the herd is a mind virus. Ride the mind wave of opportunity instead. 

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Creativity Productivity & Work Writing

Creativity is a fancy version of productivity

People confuse busyness with productivity. Answering emails all day is mostly a waste of time, as is instant messaging co-workers. Doing something — typing into little boxes all day — fulfills the human desire to feel useful.

People also perceive what artists do is an unnecessary use of time. But creativity is a fancy version of productivity.

Nothing gets wasted when it comes to painting, songwriting, and any other artistic vocations. Scraps and shitty rough drafts give us something to play with. The art of gathering string — doing the hard work, heart work, and head work — expands the reality we perceive.

Sensible work gets us paid. Yet, when we photograph everything, we look at nothing.

Without propelling the imagination and practicing our craft, we’re just procrastinators and waiters. The whole point of making art is to do and ship something interesting.

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Creativity Productivity & Work Writing

If you’re struggling to get started, do it badly

“Work finally begins when the fear of doing nothing exceeds the fear of doing it badly,” advises the author Alain de Botton

Perfection is the antithesis of inspiration — it prevents you from getting started.

The trick to getting going is to do it badly. To do that, one must be intentionally messy. The art of spontaneity asks you to start before you’re ready. Don’t over-think the process; intensify the habit of doing.

The emancipatory power in getting started helps jumpstart creativity. 

Producing crap isn’t the end-goal. There is no quality without quantity — first, we get going, then we deduce. 

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”

Margaret Atwood

The point of taking small actions is to create enough momentum to feel like we’re winning. You’re looking to go from one pushup a day to two the next week, four thousand steps a day to five-hundred. 

You’ll need to write one-hundred words day after day before developing the muscle to consistently get down two-hundred words. By the way, there is no such thing as writer’s block!

Do small things to get started — no matter how poorly — to avoid second-guessing yourself and prime the motivational pump.

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Arts Creativity Life & Philosophy Productivity & Work

From seeing to believing

Obvious to you, not to others.

It’s the human condition to see patterns but leave them to abstraction.

Identifying the gaps is only the start. No one gains from keeping silent on the puzzle of opportunity.

What occupies the rest of the grey space is doing the work.

Creators play the dual role of keen observer and competent persister. They control the master switch between idea and reality, optimizing their time, energy, and luck while never having all three simultaneously.

Anyone can learn how to see — how to build off a concept, sell the story, and contribute something meaningful is the worthiest challenge.

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Arts Creativity Productivity & Work

A panoply of tools

What’s the primary device that unlocks your creativity — the camera, a pen, or the paintbrush?

These tools are our passport to freedom. So photographers speak through photos, writers communicate in text, cartoonists draw, etc.

“We become what we behold,” Marshall McLuhan said, “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”

Tools for Titans
Photo: Bill Robertson

Our vocation shapes our perspective and predetermines our output.  

But we gather scraps of ideas everywhere; through unintended eavesdropping, mishearing things, and misread headlines. Artists are scavengers.  

We combine divergent widgets in our toolshed to strengthen the entire arsenal. The writer makes draws; the architect paints with light; the musician scribes poems. 

Using a variety of widgets helps work out different artistic muscles. As we draw analogies across subjects, we improve our core craft. 

Said the Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” 

All the hedgehog knows how to do is protect itself with its spines. But the fox is more elastic — it can adapt to different conditions that enhance its chances to survive.

We permit our perspectives to shapeshift by opening the mind up to ubiquitous inspiration. Our imagination expands in so far as we stretch our palette. 

First, we collect and understand. Then we deduce. Only then can we return to mastering our core competency.